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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Urban sensors are often used to monitor illegal activity — from identifying drivers that run red lights to generating predictive crime maps — but they can also collect data for quality-of-life improvements like reducing emissions and preventing car accidents.

The big picture: Municipalities could use anonymized, secure sensor data in combination with advanced computing to better understand how people travel through and use public space, without sacrificing individual privacy.

What’s happening: Academic researchers and urban planners can leverage the latest sensors — including “camera-as-sensor” technologies, which convert a camera’s optical image into an electronic signal — to gather and share insights about roads, intersections and public spaces.

  • Yes, but: Ensuring the data collected is protected and anonymized will be crucial to earning public trust in these efforts.

Details: These projects rely on a combination of video streams, computer vision, AI, and edge computing (computing done near the data source, not in the cloud).

  • Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University collaborated with Urban Data Eye and the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership to identify pedestrian movement patterns based on CCTV footage and live-streaming. The project found that furniture and tree placement impact where pedestrians congregate, which could inform planning or redesign decisions.
  • Platform Pittsburgh, another Metro21 project, analyzed urban video streams to identify frequent sites of near-miss accidents, which could guide the creation of safer intersections. It is also tracking emissions based on images of truck's tailpipes.
  • Numina has partnered with city planners, mobility companies, and other stakeholders in Jacksonville, Las Vegas and St. Louis to collect and analyze data on the walkability and bike-ability of urban areas using light-post-mounted sensors and computer vision.

This technology has applications outside urban areas, as well. Project Diversita developed a camera and computing system that can identify over 5,000 different animal species to inform wildlife research and management.

The bottom line: Applying machine learning and edge computing to sensor and camera data could inform future urban planning initiatives, the allocation of public space, and even conservation efforts.

Karen Lightman is executive director of Metro21: Smart Cities Institute at Carnegie Mellon University.

Go deeper

23 mins ago - World

Biden to push vaccine-sharing at UN, but boosters at home

Expand chart
Data: Our World in Data; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

President Biden will convene world leaders on Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to push them to do more to end the pandemic — though he's also facing criticism for prioritizing boosters at home.

Why it matters: There is still no functional plan in place to vaccinate the world, and past summits of this sort have flopped. The White House hopes that this virtual gathering will produce ambitious promises, accountability measures to track progress, and ultimately help achieve a 70% global vaccination rate this time next year.

GOP operatives accused of funneling Russian cash to Trump

Jesse Benton, spokesman for the Ron Paul campaign, speaking to reporters in the spin room after the CNN Debate on January 1, 2012. Photo: Robert Daemmrich Photography Inc/Corbis via Getty Images

A former senior aide to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul was indicted this month for allegedly funneling $25,000 from a wealthy, unnamed Russian to former President Trump's reelection efforts.

The big picture: The Justice Department alleges that Jesse Benton, 43, the husband of Paul's niece and a veteran Republican staffer, orchestrated a scheme to conceal the illegal foreign donation with another GOP operative, Doug Wead.

Biden to raise refugee admissions cap to 125,000

Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport after being evacuated from Kabul. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Biden administration will raise the refugee admissions cap to 125,000 for the next fiscal year beginning in October, the State Department confirmed in a statement Monday.

Why it matters: The move comes as the U.S. contends with resettling tens of thousands of Afghan refugees stateside, and as the world faces "unprecedented global displacement and humanitarian needs," the department wrote.